When I was 13, my mom sent me to counseling. My mom and dad had recently divorced after a marriage fraught with alcoholism. Her concern for me was valid. I was angry inside. I felt worthless and was deeply confused.
If I am remembering right, the thing that led my mom to make the appointment for me was because of a poem I had written. What I had written was about suicide.
In my immediate family, my mom was the last person I showed the poem to. I had already shown it to my older sister. She did a double-take after reading it, and then looked at me with worried eyes. I remember feeling surprised at her reaction.
I had no concept of how dark the emotions I carried inside would appear to other people.
Plus, I had already shown the poem to my dad. Creative writing was a new thing for me at the time, and I had begun turning to it to express myself. I remember feeling a spark of excitement as I read him the poem. I was shyly hoping for praise.
“The ending is unbalanced, it needs to be finished off with a rhyming line” was his only comment.
My mom made arrangements for me to see a counselor after I let her read the poem.
I did not consider myself suicidal at the time. I did not know what depression was.
I only knew that so far life had showed me I had no value. I was distraught and full of pain, but was too young to understand it enough to process it.
Counseling was awkward for me. In hindsight, it must have been awkward for the counselor too. She was a nice lady. Her office was in her home.
I can see her house clearly in my head. It was in one of the original areas of the city I grew up in. It was an older home, probably built in the 1930s. Craftsman style, it had a beautiful wide front porch and a low angled roof.
The street was lined with oak trees, tall and majestic. It was springtime, green was everywhere. I remember being nervous and sullen as I walked up the steps to her house. My mom spoke with her, and then left.
Alone in the counselors office, I didn’t know what to say. I had known no other life than the one I had lived so far, and had no way of expressing the pain I felt inside. I was quiet. I gave one word answers to her questions until my time was up.
The second time I went, she had me do a Myers Briggs personality test, which I completed with interest. The third time I was supposed to go, I refused.
Therapy felt pointless. I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak. My mom called and cancelled the appointment, and I never went back.
The next few years were difficult for me. Emotionally, I imploded inside. The feelings of worthlessness, and the anger at the wounds I carried would overtake me often.
I tried running from my pain in typical teenage fashion. I tried ignoring it, and numbing it. I felt mute to express what I felt inside, and helpless to heal from it.
I would rebel, and then weep tears of remorse at my rebellion and at the worry it was caused my mom. Running from my pain only added to it, but my young mind didn’t have any skills available to respond differently, or to express my emotion.
Fast forward through life about 20 years. Through the rebellious angst-filled teenage-hood, then into a period of settling. On into my early twenties – marriage, motherhood, a move across the country.
During those years I was so busy just living what life threw at me that I rarely had a chance to stop and think. I hardly had the time or ability to handle the problems and challenges in my present day, let alone the wounds of the past that I still carried.
Life was not always good, it contained stress and heartache mixed in, but I always got through. “Getting through” became my focus.
In my mid thirties something changed inside me.
The engine in my drive to “get through”…broke. I found myself living life on autopilot. Numbness took hold. Most days, I felt no emotion at all.
After a time, I clued in that what I was experiencing was depression.
It shocked me. I had not thought about depression since I was 13, in the counselors office. My depression as an adult looked different than it had as a young teen.
Gone were the raw emotions, bursting out from the seams. In it’s place was a nothingness.
And although depression presented itself differently as an adult than it did then, the issue I faced was similar to when I was young: I was unable to express what I was feeling.
And because I was unable to express myself, I felt alone.
Attending counseling in my mid thirties was far different than when I went as a 13 year old. I had 20 years of experience added to my life, both good and bad.
I went, willingly this time. Mostly. Inside me, the sullen, angry teenager wanted to kick her heels in rebellion to say “I don’t NEED help”, but I quieted that voice.
Cause I did need help. I was lost so deep in the pit that I couldn’t find my way out on my own.
The counselors office this time was far less serene a setting than the one from my youth. It was in the basement of the local hospital in the small town I live in now.
I stepped into the rickety elevator and pushed the button. Doors closed. I felt the lurch of the elevator as it started to move, and then again when it stopped at my floor. Doors opened, and I got off, underground.
No sunlight streaming through windows, or tall, majestic oak trees, or beautiful wrap around porches. But the flickering fluorescent hospital lights and the dull colours of the walls reflected my mood.
As I entered the counselors office, I was nervous. And I was quiet, at first. I still felt like a child, unable to find words for my pain.
I knew enough by then to know that the numbness I experienced was experiencing was just a different showing of the same pain I had thrashed against as a child. The counselor was kind, and not much older than me.
This time, I spoke. When I first opened my mouth, I thought I would need to speak about and rehash all the wounds I had been through over my lifetime. But as we proceeded, her approach towards me formed differently than I had expected.
She told me I had power in my mind. She explained to me that I was sensitive, and in tune with my emotions, so much so that they could easily overwhelm into a spinning cycle in my thoughts.
She introduced me to the word “mindfulness.”
She explained that I could train my mind to be aware of “this moment now”, focus on the small joys in each day, each minute, and consciously direct my thoughts away from that spinning cycle.
She explained that although it is not a “cure” for my depression – over time, it would help me to better direct my flow of emotion, which would have an impact on me. For the good.
Earlier today I scrolled through Facebook, by coincidence a friend had a mindfulness post.
Her post read: “Mindfulness – focusing on what makes you happy at this very moment, NOT what is going to make you happy 5 minutes /hours /days /weeks /months /years from now. Can you list 5? 10? Go nuts….”
My comment was this: “The game of Uno I just played with my boys. That my youngest is feeling better from the flu. My oldest’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Perfect winter weather. My cold glass of water. Comfortable favourite pajamas. That I don’t have to go out tonight.”
Her reply to me: “What a nice picture that just painted”.
I agreed. It was a nice picture.
And that is what we do when we practice mindfulness.
We grab a paintbrush. It is not a brush which paints fake colors to cover up or ignore the pain and problems in our lives in order to hide them.
Instead, it is one that paints to reveal the subtleties of our lives which we so easily miss.
It is a brush which highlights the true pleasures and positives of the moment, small as they may be. Which then gives our minds the ability to find peace and calm, to recharge, to heal and to feel a sense of fresh hope and joy.
And, brush in hand, over time we soon find ourselves really living life, rather than only getting through.
Image Credit – NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
A bend in the road led me to embrace my introversion, and to discover my identity as a highly sensitive person. As I have moved along the path in learning more about who I am, how to take care of myself as an introvert, and how to handle the challenges of life as an HSP - my love of writing has been rekindled and embraced once again. It intertwines with the journey I am on, and is reflected in what I write.